Spiritual Books for May

Those of you who remember my Candlemas Resolutions, recall my wish to write a review of one religious book per month.  Spiritual reading is of great necessity for Christians.  The Bible holds first place, but the Bible has been called “God’s Hidden Book” with good reason: it can be hard to understand, and the reader needs the special grace of the Holy Spirit to properly learn from it.  (Happy Pentecost, by the way!) However, there are three things which shed light on how to apply and understand Scripture: 1) the lives of the saints; 2) theology; and 3) devotional/spiritual books.

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I said that I wished to concentrate on theological works in that past article, but they are slow reading.  I’m still not finished with Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology, which was reviewed in February of last year.  (Mostly due to laziness, it is true.) Now, my theologically heavy book is Matthias Joseph Scheenben’s A Manual of Catholic Theology.  It’s very interesting, but don’t expect a review of it any time soon.  In any case, I hope that one of the following three books, two saint’s lives and one devotional work, peaks your interest and enriches your life.

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1) Humility of Heart by Cajetan Maria de Bergamo

This book was written by the esteemed Capuchin missionary Cajetan Maria de Bergamo.  This might be the only work of his to have been published in English, even though his eulogist praises him as “second to none in religious life and easily first in all types of writing” and Pope Benedict XVI claims his work as equally satisfying the heart and the mind.  So, it should come as no surprise that his work on humility is considered one of the best on the virtue.

Humility of Heart does its best to paint a picture of how beautiful humility is and how ugly is its opposite, pride.  He uses many apt examples, especially from Scripture.  Most striking for me is how he reminded us that if humility is enough to move God to save us, then pride alone can cause damnation.  Indeed, that unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, refusal to repent, is rooted in pride; and many persons who are considered decent or even virtuous go to hell because they refuse to let God in their lives. 

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Who is Your Apostle?

Both a passage from the Revelations of St. Gertrude and the fact that today is the Feast of St. Matthias (the Apostle who was chosen after Pentecost to take the position which had been held by Judas Iscariot) combined to give me the idea of this post.  While conversing with St. Gertrude, Jesus Christ told her (oh, if that sounded rather unexpected, be sure to read my little review of the work) that it had come to his attention that she had no apostle.  Thereupon, he presented St. John the Evangelist as her patron, and we are treated to a wide variety of revelations about how his purity and love of God and neighbor earned him many special joys in heaven.  Which reminds me of another passage where St. Gertrude asked Jesus what he was thinking about.  He responded by saying that he was thinking of how to reward St. Gertrude’s every good deed, good word, and good thought a hundred times over in heaven.  To think that in exchange for seventy years of toil, we gain an eternity of rest where we shall be rewarded infinitely above our deserts!

To return to the topic, reading this passage inspired me to have a devotion to St. Bartholomew.  (Thoughts about the greatness of the saints’ charity have inspired another digression.  Think of how great the difference must be between even the least saint in heaven and those of us still struggling down here.  How eager they are to listen to us and help us despite our wretchedness!  Imagine a shabby beggar approaching a richly dressed duke and asking the duke to petition the king for him.  Not only does the duke not turn the beggar away, but even directly makes his way to the king.  Further, he brings the beggar’s petition before the king and even asks the king to consider it as a request directly from him.)  I had long been attracted by those character traits of St. Bartholomew visible in the short passage where he features in the Gospel of John (John 1:43-50): his cheerfulness, simplicity, honesty, and wholeheartedness.  Also, one seems drawn into the joy with which Our Lord greets him: “Behold, a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.”  Then, the life of St. Bartholomew in the Aurea Legenda in which he converts an Indian kingdom from paganism by forcing the demon in the main idol to destroy this idol and all the other idols in the temple, and then having an angel present the demon in chains to the converted king is rather awesome.  Unfortunately, the king’s brother took offense at this, and–depite St. Bartholomew also defeating his idol–has St. Bartholomew flayed alive.  The chronicler also mentions that some people say he was flayed alive in Armenia, which is the most accepted version.  Needless to say, the king and his priests meet a bad end.

So, my question to you, dear readers, is whether you have a favorite apostle?  The reason may be because you value his intercession and/or are attracted to his character.  Did you decide on this only through scriptural accounts or did you look at other material?  St. Paul is a valid option too, by the way.